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DownTheRoad.org's RoadNews Newsletter: Goodbye Mcleod Ganj, India and The 4–5 year “India and Neighbors” Bicycle Touring Plan
September 2010
(Sent From Mcleod Ganj, India)

Home = http://DownTheRoad.org
Previous letters can be found at http://www.downtheroad.org/LETTERS.htm


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Goodbye Mcleod Ganj, India – we will return And
Our 4–5 year “India and Neighbors” Bicycle Touring plan

(see pictures for this Newsletter at http://bit.ly/90xo0b )

Hello from Mcleod Ganj, in the mountainous north of India. Both bikes are built and in pristine working order. We are ready to start pedaling to Nepal and all points south but the rain just won’t stop. The monsoon rains were supposed to end last week but apparently Mother Nature doesn’t read the guide books. Some of the downpours are harder than anything I have ever seen before. We need to leave soon because we have to be out of India by Nov. 1st and estimate it is 1000 kilometers (600 miles) on our non direct mountainous way to the Nepali border. This newsletter list is huge and takes several days to completely send out (750/hour) so hopefully we are on the road when you receive this. Either way we will post almost daily updates on our Facebook group page which you do not need an account to view. http://bit.ly/90xo0b

During the past few months we found a US$160/month apartment and settled in. I worked on updating months of our web site and Cindie converted our books to ePub files so they can be read on varies eBook readers including Apples new iPad. There will be an announcement when they are available. She also updated all of our Amazon Kindle books which are available now.

Despite the rain we still manage to take 2–6 hour morning hikes on the pine tree protected mountain trails several times a week and Cindie goes to regular Yoga classes. The best part is volunteering to teach English to Tibetan refugees, very fulfilling. I have written a long story about this that I hope to send out in another newsletter.

We have been told that Mcleod Ganj is an expensive place compared to other parts of India we will soon be cycling through but there is no convincing us. It’s all relative. Last summer we were riding across the USA and could only afford a campground with a shower twice a week. The rest of the time, once we got east of the Rocky Mountains with its abundant public lands, we were hiding in city parks and stealth camping in questionably legal places. This may sound romantic but it gets old.

Here in India, even the expensive part, we can afford hotels, US$2 upscale restaurant meals, and ride a taxi wherever we want. India has been one of the least expensive countries we have traveled and we no longer feel poor on our modest income. One of my favorite pastimes is hanging out in the groovy coffee shops and discussing deep topics with locals and other foreigners from literally all over the world – everyone can afford incredible India.

We have cycled through many places I considered nice to live or retire but Cindie was never sold. But here Cindie loves the Tibetan culture and the beautiful setting and I like the great hiking and mix of cultures and religions. In short, we both love it. So far, in the over 8 years of our tour, we have never returned anywhere that didn’t have family but I think this place is so special we will be back. But there is the world to visit first……


Our 4–5 year “India and Neighbors” Bicycle Touring plan

I have planned bike trips on several continents but India has been the most challenging due to several factors explained below.

We have a 10 year tourist visa which is an unusually long time for most countries. The longest travel visas we received were twelve months in Australia, nine months in China and New Zealand, and I think we can stay as long as we want in Canada with an entry stamp. Contrast this with the typical 30 – 90 day visa we get for most countries. This super long Indian visa opens up a whole new world of travel possibilities because it increases the most important ingredient to any successful bike tour; flexibility. We have no plans of just staying in India for the next decade but believe it will take four or five years to see this area on our bikes. The ten year visa means we can find our favorite spots and return anytime we like for an incredibly cheap paradise. I already know Cindie’s pick; Mcleod Ganj.

The catch to this generous visa is we have to exit India every six months for a gap of two months before we can return to India for another six months. This is why I am calling this the “India and neighbors” leg of our tour; we will have to ride into the neighboring countries every half year to make this work. We plan on visiting Nepal at least twice, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Tibet, and possibly a summer in the UK to ride and give several presentations. Flights from India to the UK are surprisingly cheap. Pakistan is also on this list but we are putting it off until the end of our 4-5 year tour in hopes the political climate and stability improve.

Another big factor that complicates making a travel plan for India is the weather. During the summer the low subcontinent plains are very hot and we want to be in the higher and cooler mountains. In late summer the subcontinent experiences a monsoon with heavy rains; we are at the tail end of that as I write. This means we will have to find cool mountainous locations to hang out and let the rain pass. I think of the monsoon season as the “off season” and a time to lay low.

A lingering concern in any international travel is political unrest. Once we arrived and started reading Indian newspapers we have learned political unrest in the area including violence. From experience we know that traveling through such areas is possible but when these unstable areas have elections we stay away. Usually when a place is having political tension an election will bring it to a head and is best avoided. After all, we are in this to have a good time not increase our risk any more than necessary. This put traveling through West Bengal and the Darjeeling areas on the back burner, where they are gearing up for elections, and already experiencing violence.

With the same logic of avoiding places when they are having trouble I believe it is best to visit troubled areas when they are experiencing peace. Sri Lanka had a civil war for years but has cleared up in recent times and is open for tourists. Who knows how long this peace will last, I hope forever, but we want to get our visit in within the next year. Sri Lanka has some great sounding old British hill stations that are likely spots to wait out the next summer’s monsoon.

So, below is what we plan to do from here - Mcleod Ganj, India:

The heavy rains should be finished any day and we have until Nov 1st to leave India (first 6 month gap) by crossing into Nepal. We estimate this to be about 1,000 mountainous kilometers with side trips. After a two or three month bicycle tour in Nepal we can cross back into India for a six month tour visiting Varanasi, Goa, around the southern tip. Then we head to the ferry crossing to Sri Lanka for our next two month gap. Sri Lanka sounds like a great place to tour and a place I never thought I would visit as a kid. Once we have been in Sri Lanka for our minimum two months gap we are back in India. I am not sure what route we will take through India from there but we will have another six months to bike our way to Bangladesh for our third six months gap out of India. After that we hope to visit the mysterious state of Sikkim and probably another rainy season in the mountain hamlet of Darjeeling, India.

From here our plan gets real fuzzy except we have to visit Rajasthan, Kashmir, Punjab, Ladakh, and more. Many seasoned travelers have told us no trip to India should be without experiencing these gems. Beyond that Cindie has her sights set on touring Bhutan; a country that usually requires a US$200/day/person tourist visa. That’s right – for us to travel Bhutan it looks like it would cost Cindie and I US$400 bucks each day! Now, I have given into her every travel whim during our eight years on the road but this one I may not be able to deliver. Neither Cindie nor I like the idea of only flying in for a couple days just so we can say we have been there and show off the visa stamp in our passport. If we go we would need at least a month to feel like we got a taste of this Himalayan country. Of course if we multiply 30 days by US$400 we get nauseous. But Cindie has been emailing away with contacts that took interest in our web site and believes she has a shot of getting in cheaply as a volunteer or something. I think it is a long shot but when Cindie gets something she wants to do stuck in her head she is persistent. No matter what she comes up with I could never tell her no.

Bhutan or not we can tour more of India and cross back into Nepal for another two month gap. At some point I want to ride through Tibet for six months but Cindie starts feeling sick at 4,000 meters. She said I should go and she could find a place to do yoga in Nepal or India. Splitting up like this would be a first for our trip but I want another tour of Tibet and Cindie doesn’t.

Last but not least we want to spend a lot of time in Rajasthan and India’s Himalayan north. If we can travel in Pakistan for a couple months or fly to the UK and/or Japan and back for a three month gap in the summer we could spend a full year in these two very interesting areas and still leave India every six months.

Wow, that was a lot of planning laid out and writing all this down really helped me picture our future. The funny thing is we seldom stick to our plans so you can expect our next few years cycling in this area to not be exactly what is written above.

See Ye DownTheRoad www.DownTheRoad.org

Tim


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